Laura Hillenbrand's New York Times bestseller turned
into Hollywood movie tells the life story of Louis Zamperini - a
man who survives the trauma of war and its aftermath on his life. I
read the book and saw the movie. There was something about this
character - this person - that kept me glued to the story.
How is it that some people have that special "something" that
enables them to get through seemingly insurmountable obstacles and
tragedy? And what is that something that gets them through? What
would it be like to meet someone like this - talk with them - learn
On February 23, 2014, a senseless act of violence befell the son
of a dear friend of mine. At a private, college gathering of
students and fraternity brothers, marauding football players in
town from another school stormed and invaded their apartment for no
apparent reason other than to make trouble. After repeatedly being
asked to leave, a fight broke out and spilled into the front yard
My friend's son was trying to break up the fight when he was
struck hard with a punch to the head that he never saw coming. He
went into a freefall onto the pavement, producing a traumatic blow
to his head. With his skull shattered and bleeding profusely,
police arrived and he was sent via MEDEVAC to a regional medical
center that scrambled to save his life.
Jackie was barely a semester into his freshman year - at the
same school my friend Jim and I had attended together and where he
met his wife Lisa. If that wasn't enough, he was also pledging the
same fraternity we had been in. It was surreal and it hit very
close to home. This was a young man who only months before had
graduated from high school - was happy, healthy and looking forward
Within hours, my phone was buzzing with texts as old college
friends heard about the tragedy; they were all reaching out and
trying to get information. Late the next evening, I called Jim and
Lisa expecting it to roll into voicemail and I was surprised when
they picked up the phone. They were only 24 hours into their saga
and clearly in shock and emotional trauma.
I told them how much I loved them and that I would be praying
for Jackie - that I am a lay member of a monastic community and
religious order that would be praying for them as well. I told them
I would be sending St. Benedict medals and urged them to carry or
wear the medal as a sign of God's presence and protection.
They had been told it was possible Jackie wouldn't live, but
they were asking God for His mercy and blessing. They were praying
for a miracle. Everyone in their extended network of family and
friends was praying for a miracle. People who didn't even know
Jackie, but had heard the story from the media or from
word-of-mouth, were praying for a miracle.
While the desperation of the situation was very real, one could
also feel that something extraordinary was happening. Jackie was
pulling people together toward a common purpose through prayer.
That in itself was a miracle.
"Whatever you ask for in
prayer with faith, you will receive."
Jackie was in a coma for weeks, his body battling against
swelling and bleeding of the brain, dangerously high intracranial
pressure, a blood clot, a bolt in his head. There seemed no end to
the medical hurdles. Jackie fought off MRSA, meningitis,
dangerously high blood pressure and half a dozen trips to the
emergency operating room.
When the odds seemed impossibly slim and remote, Jackie, his
sister, parents, extended family, and countless doctors, nurses and
caretakers soldiered on.
After 275 days and nights in hospitals and rehabs, Jackie and
his parents went home for Thanksgiving in 2014. He had survived
this terrible ordeal, but it was only the beginning of the next
phase of recovery. With an amazing and resilient spirit, Jackie
continues to endure rehab sessions that push his body and mind. He
works to reignite the injured parts of his brain, little by little,
day by day.
Recently, I had the privilege to meet Jackie in person. After
everything I had heard about his story, I didn't know what to
expect. But there he was, waiting at the front door to greet me
with a St. Benedict medal dangling from a necklace hanging outside
his shirt. He obviously showed some physical signs of his ordeal,
but he was standing upright without any assistance, able to
converse and totally coherent - and actually quite animated!
Jackie, Jim, Lisa and I spent several hours talking over dinner.
I presented him with a fraternity shirt, which he wore the rest of
the night and the next day. Later that evening when he was going to
bed, Jim and Lisa asked if I would join them as they put Jackie
down for the night. I grabbed my breviary, walked upstairs and sat
down on the edge of his bed. With holy water, I traced the sign of
the cross on his forehead and then proceeded to pray over him:
"God come to our assistance,
Lord make haste to help us…"
"Lord, now let your servant
go in peace; your word has been fulfilled…"
"Protect us, Lord, as we
stay awake; watch over us as we sleep;
that awake, we may keep
watch with Christ, and asleep rest in his peace."
Jackie's fight is not over. His goal is to return to college at
his parent's alma mater and to be an active brother in his dad's
fraternity. Jackie's story has changed everyone who has heard it or
has had the privilege to meet him in person. However, his story
isn't really about the violence that started it all. It's about
what's happened since that terrible night.
It's a story of faith, hope and love. It's a story about parents
- family and friends - doctors, nurses and caregivers who hung in
there when things looked so bleak. It's a story about counting on
God and thanking Him for His blessings. And it's a story of a young
man who is tender in spirit but tough as nails. Jackie - a
modern-day Louis Zamperini - has shown a courage and determination
this humble oblate will never forget. You can read about Jackie's
story and his marathon to recovery at http://www.prayforjackie.com
"For I know the plans I have
for you," declares the LORD,
"plans to prosper you and
not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."